I'm currently on the StrongLifts 5x5 program. I've set goals for myself to reach the "Intermediate" level based on the weights on this website by end of June next year, giving me a bit under 7 months from now.

Edit: For context, I currently weigh ~145lbs, 5'7". Have been training for about 4 months. First 2 months, started at a heavy deficit. Lost 7lbs fat. Gained 3lbs muscle. Next 2 months, ate a light deficit. Lost 5lbs fat. Gained 2lbs muscle. All beginner gains, I assume. Now at about maintenance, the past week. Can't say how much weight I've gained, or lost, since the weights have become difficult, since it's only really been the past couple weeks that I've been struggling to add weight every workout. So total body weight lost since starting training is ~8lbs. Just failed 5x5 on BP for first time on last workout. Judging by the difficulty, I expect I'll likely fail 5x5 on DL, Rows, OH Press within the next 2 or so workouts, Squats within the next 3 or so workouts.

(My goals are based on a 150lb weight, since by then I expect to have gained AT LEAST that much weight)


Bench: 185lbs ~1.2xBW
Deadlift: 285lbs ~1.9xBW
Squat: 240lbs ~1.6xBW
Rows: 160lbs ~1.05xBW
OH Press: 125lbs ~0.85xBW


Bench: 130lbs
Deadlift: 195lbs
Squat: 135lbs (I know my squats are pretty low right now)
Rows: 110lbs
OH Press: 85lbs

Main Question

At this point, I am starting to struggle adding 5lbs to each exercise for every workout, 10lbs for deadlifts. I've read a lot of articles online about the controversy behind using a belt for squats/oh press/deadlifts. When to start using one, or to ever use one. There are lots of people who say you should only start using a belt when you get to like 280+lbs squats, 300+lbs deadlifts, etc. Obviously, that's past my currently set goal. Medhi states that "once it becomes harder to add weight every workout, start wearing a belt," but plenty of people online seem to disagree.

Since I've started to really struggle adding 5lbs every workout, is it worth using a belt at this point, particularly for squats because I know 135lbs is pretty low to use a belt for, even though I'm struggling to add weight every time. And at what weights did you guys, if any of you, start using a belt for your lifts?

  • You basically never need a belt unless you are pushing for a 1RM PR. When doing reps, your core should be strong enough for the lift, if it isn't, lower the weight until it is.
    – MJB
    Dec 12, 2017 at 14:28
  • 1
    @MJB - Exactly, exactly exactly. The "core" is so misunderstood on this site (and in general). I'd love to figure out how to explain the "core" at a less technical and understandable level.
    – Mike-DHSc
    Dec 12, 2017 at 21:05
  • @Mike-DHSc Yeah I hear this all the time in real life as well. I had a conversation with someone the other day saying "i'm strong enough to deadlift that but my back becomes round". Well, that means you're NOT strong enough to lift that yet, if you are strong enough you can do it with proper form. I can't stress enough how important form is in this kind of lifts.
    – MJB
    Dec 13, 2017 at 6:56

7 Answers 7


TLDR: I am going to argue that you should use a lifting belt whenever you decide that powerlifting is the sport that you want to invest money in to. You do not have to use a belt, but it can benefit in the long run at any time if you are serious about improving in the sport.

What you should not do is be one of those people that get really pumped about powerlifting, buy an expensive belt and expensive shoes, then quit after a couple months.

The "why?":

A belt does help with performance as well as increase safety. It will help you produce more explosive power, which allows you to lift with increased intensity and increased volume which yields faster strength gains. So in the long run you are better off using a belt in the bulk of your heavy lifting. ("Heavy" being relative to your current strength).

There is also a bit of a learning curve to using a belt. You may not get immediate performance effects of a belt until you learn how to brace against it. Coupled with the fact that the belt you first choose may not fit you properly. So it takes time to fully utilize a belt.

Because of that, a belt will not necessarily be used as a crutch to compensate for bad form as a lot of people think. Bad form will hold you back regardless of whether you use a belt or not. It could be that people who's form breaks down without a belt is because they don't get the feedback that a belt provides. You learn what good form feels like with a belt, but you don't know what good form feels like without a belt. As such, you have a tendency to break down.

Belts do not give weak cores. It helps you brace your core, but your core is still holding the most of the weight (in fact probably more so because of the added brace).

Lifting with a belt will help you get stronger in lifting without a belt. This is simply because it helps you get stronger by lifting heavier weights over time.

Addressing the very specific point that people argue is a good starting point: The problem with saying "don't use a belt unless you're squatting 280+lbs" is that squatting 280 lbs for a 145 lb. person is significantly different than squatting 280 lbs. for a 230 lb. person. So there is no set limit of poundage in which one can say "now you should use a belt."

Having said all that. You don't need a belt. There are a lot of lifters (even elite powerlifters) who lift beltless with great success. You still need to squat right. You still need to deadlift right.

  • This seems to be the most sensible answer which looks at both lifting with and without a belt, good job.
    – MJB
    Dec 12, 2017 at 14:33

Personally, I have used a belt squatting with weight as low as 135lbs. The trick is to use the belt not only to support, but for feedback of proper form.

If you're at a difficult weight you can use a belt regardless of actual pounds.

The biggest argument I have against belts is that people seem to forget good squat form when using them(ie pushing their stomachs into the belt and over arching the back). If you keep good form the belt will help you the most.


As you have mentioned you find it hard to add 5 lbs progressively, I'd suggest using a belt every time you overload from now. What people have suggested may work for them, but I'd say you should consider safety first. It will give extra support to your spine and also help your form. That minimizes the chances of injury.

Also, adding 5 lbs progressively in consecutive workouts may not work. Try adding 2.5 lbs or 1.25 lbs if you find 5 lbs difficult. Overloading is done progressively. So, adding 5 lbs every time means in a month you are aiming to add 20 lbs assuming you squat once a week. If you do it twice a week, you are aiming to add 40 lbs to your squats at the end of the month. That's a big difference. I'd say lower the overloading and let your body recover and get stronger to move on to next level.


Honestly, you don't need a belt ever. If you are struggling with the weight, it simply means you are not strong enough. Belts help increase intra abdominal pressure and help you brace stronger, with that is going to add just a few more pounds to your max. That is the reason why powerlifters wear belts, it maximizes the weight they can lift.

I strongly discourage the use of the belt especially when you are still a beginner. You need to learn how to brace properly without a belt. Some beginners make the mistake of thinking : "im going to lift heavy weights, time to buy a belt!". They usually end up lifting with bad form, using the belt to support their lumbar and going crazy with the deadlifts.

In conclusion:

  • Learn proper form
  • Use a belt if you decide to go take your lifting to the next level (aka. competitive powerlifting maybe?)
  • 2
    I disagree with the statement, "If you are struggling with the weight, it simply means you are not strong enough." Isn't that completely counter-intuitive to progressive overloading? When you start taking powerlifting seriously, shouldn't you always be struggling with the weight at some point? I know I'm still a beginner, but that doesn't mean I'm not taking my lifting seriously, and lifting with bad form. I always use a gorilla pod so I can make sure I'm lifting with proper form before increasing the weight next time. Not that I disagree that is a common trend.
    – Jun Kang
    Dec 13, 2017 at 15:53
  • But are you saying you don't think I should really ever bother using a belt? I have no interest in competitive powerlifting. But I am taking my lifting seriously.
    – Jun Kang
    Dec 13, 2017 at 15:53
  • Gonna clarify a few things here: Dec 14, 2017 at 12:43
  • First, I'm not saying you are not taking your training seriously..... yea film yourself, look at your form, that's all good, keep it up! Dec 14, 2017 at 12:45
  • 1
    Ok. I understand your point. Basically, you'd discourage use because, in the end, its simply not necessary. It may or may not increase my max, but in the end, I'll still be getting stronger, likely at the same rate as without a belt. It's not like using a belt will make me get stronger at a significantly accelerated rate, right? Thanks for your answer!
    – Jun Kang
    Dec 14, 2017 at 15:26

Understand what the weight belt is doing and hopeful it makes more sense why it's so dangerous.

The weight belt is used to compensate for a horizontally wrapping group of muscles collectively referred to as your innercore.

You're literally programming these spinal stabilizing muscles to shut off.

Your innercore is the first muscle to contract during any movement. --

To feel this yourself, flex your arm kick your leg anything with your hand on your stomach. You'll be able to feel it contracting to brace your vertebral column.

When this muscle becomes dysfunctional (say it fires too late for example). Other large muscles (such your back) is now applying it's large force to an unbraced spinal column.

Just doing your "normal weight" now can result in a slipped or herniated disk resulting in lower back issues, reduced mobility or surgery.

UPDATE: The weight belts dangerous effects aren't "tangible" the neuromuscular changes this induces cannot be seen until the damage has been done. Combined with the fact that it's not a logical conclusion that can even be made at face value.

Increased support (from the weight belt) = Increased safety. Is INCORRECT

For these reasons I've found changing a persons mindset is VERY difficult. The resulting structural spinal column injuries (disc, ligaments, nerve the list goes on and on) don't simply heal when symptoms subside.

To get an idea of not seeing what's going on under the surface while wearing this brace. Maybe this will show the relationship more clearly.

For example a patient that has trouble lifting his toes upward while walking (dorsiflexion) is given a rigid plastic brace to keep his ankle flexed at all times. When he uses the brace you can see he walks MUCH better and as a result stops falling while he's using his brace.

What happen's when you take that ankle brace away? Falls go through the roof as his neuromuscular system has now completely shut off the muscle that flexes his ankle (called the tibialis anterior). He now falls every time he falls every time he does not use his brace.

Hopefully this make's the relationship clearer (it is exactly the same concept). The stakes become higher when you replace the end result from "Falling" to "Chronic Spinal Issues".


These excerpts from professional physical therapy journals (JOSPT etc…). These are few of many studies done in this area.

“The model consisting of history of LBI, body weight and muscle latency explained 74% of LBI outcome. Athletes with a history of LBI shut off significantly fewer muscles and did so with delayed latency (14 milliseconds).

"Chance of LBI increased by 3% with each millisecond of abdominal muscle shut-off latency”

** “The delayed muscle reflex latencies were found to be related to a future LBI and not to a history of LBP” **

Although designed as a short-term response…….in many individuals it becomes a detrimental adaptation

“A high threshold strategy adaptive strategy mediated by the CNS in response to pain, where there is an increased neural drive to the global musculature (mainly “core” muscles).

  • Cholewicki ’05

Global trunk muscle response to sudden unloading.

“In all 4 testing directions, the athletes with a recent history of acute LBP shut off significantly fewer muscles and did so with delayed latency” “Exercise of the core musculature is more than trunk strengthening. In fact, motor relearning of inhibited muscles may be more important than strengthening in patients with LBP”

  • Akuthota and Nadler ‘04

“Consistent with the identification of changes in motor planning, there is compelling evidence that pain has strong effects at the supraspinal level. Both short-and long-term changes are thought to occur with pain in the activity of the supraspinal structures including the cortex”.

“The overload principle advocated in sports medicine is a nemesis in the back. In other words, the progressive resistance strengthening of some core muscles, particularly the lumbar extensors, may be unsafe to the back. In fact, many traditional back strengthening exercises may also be unsafe”

  • Akuthota and Nadler ‘04
  • So, not to discredit any of the information here, but in very basic terms, you're saying that using a belt ends up becoming a crutch to lifting? Because a belt will "shut off... spinal stabilizing muscles," and essentially the belt does it for you, meaning you can lift more? I feel like most research I've seen about belts don't support that. Do you have any articles that I can read through that support that?
    – Jun Kang
    Dec 14, 2017 at 15:19
  • So you disagree with @DeeV's answer right? That "Belts do not give weak cores. It helps you brace your core, but your core is still holding the most of the weight (in fact probably more so because of the added brace)"
    – Jun Kang
    Dec 14, 2017 at 15:32
  • @JunKang please see the above.
    – Mike-DHSc
    Jan 13, 2018 at 4:49
  • I am partial to this answer. I understand using a belt for competitions that allow belts, but if you are lifting for health and strength, it seems counter-productive.
    – VSO
    Jan 17, 2018 at 19:16
  • All I can do is present the research, you're entitled to use it as you wish. This is an area that has a mountain of supporting research and was heavily emphasized in DPT school. Neuromuscular Re-education literally has its own billing code as certain dysfunctions if not corrected can lead to serious injury. Speak with a local Physical Therapist if you're able to.
    – Mike-DHSc
    Jan 17, 2018 at 20:23

You've indicated that you have lost weight intentionally since beginning your training, and that you're eating at maintenance level now. This is incompatible with long-term strength acquisition.

A powerlifting belt probably will help you in your lifts, but it cannot replace proper recovery factors (for example, sufficient protein and a caloric surplus).

EDIT, to actually answer the question. ;-)

Mehdi's advice -- "once it becomes harder to add weight every workout, start wearing a belt" -- is sensible. I started using a belt when I began to struggle (what seemed to me) quite a lot with my squat and deadlift.

There is no reason to involve specific weight-per-exercise numbers in the decision-making process, unless for your own personal preferences.

  • 2
    I didn't ask you to review my diet. I know what I'm doing with my diet. I know it's not compatible with long-term strength gains. That's why I went from a deficit, to maintenance, to surplus a little later on. Because I started at a really high body fat percentage (started around 28%, now down to about 20%), and I can take advantage of beginner gains, losing fat and gaining muscle at the same time.
    – Jun Kang
    Dec 11, 2017 at 20:39

I agree with the statement made: The "core" is so misunderstood on this site (and in general). I'd love to figure out how to explain the "core" at a less technical and understandable level. – Mike-DHSc

Can I just said that the Core IS your natural belt, the stronger it is, the BETTER the belt, the stronger the support.

However, can I add, that when I was 23 years old and competing at the London championship, I had to prepare to clean and jerk 150kg, to do that I went on deadlifting up to 230kg for 1 rep, at that level, I needed a belt to keep the core in place "just in case", as the core can only get strong up to a point, as it cannot get trained the same as the deltoid etc....

So for maximum weight of 4 sets of 1 rep each, if you feel that the core it is not there yet, maybe you can use the belt, otherwise you would have to wait longer before you get to the point to do it without.

I hope I have explained myself clearly enough.

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